Victorian Fallen Angel
3. Victorian AspectFallen Angel
Tragic Princesses: Parallel Victorian Lives and Deaths.
Two Tragic Females Emerge from these 1892 Historical Events. All but two of the major players in the extended layers of this 1892 saga got away clean. Kate Morgan and John Longfield vanished into history from their local plot gone horribly wrong. The Dole and Missionary interests took over Hawai'i, annexing the sovereign nation as a U.S. territory by 1898. The Spreckelses lost Hawai'i but started new billion-dollar fortunes in California. Only two beautiful, talented female players left their lives in the sands of history for us to rediscover. Ironically, each died at age 24. (Kate Morgan, for what it's worth, was 26.) We admire Lizzie and Crown Princess Victoria for their all too human dramas, as well as the remarkable, now lost age that both created and destroyed themin which there is much for moderns to learn.
Elizabeth 'Lizzie' Wyllie (c1868-1892) was the Beautiful Stranger who died at the Hotel del Coronado in 1892. For several weeks, while authorities searched the nation to establish her true identity or find relatives, she lay in state in a show window of Johnson Mortuary Co. on Fifth Avenue in San Diego. Tens of thousands of gawkers in their Sunday best came to admire her and mill around every day. That she was touched by evil, there was no doubt. Rumors swirling in the Yellow Press (for her case was a national sensation) had it that she had been involved in sexual and corrupt doings with men in the highest places. However, for a few incandescent, blazing days she became that most exalted of Victorian female personas: the Fallen Angel, a pure woman of good heart, brought low by evil people in an uncaring world. The same contradictory society that had destroyed her, because she was 'ruined' by her caddish paramour, elevated her to the level of saintliness. San Diego's high society feted her at a High Church funeral with choir, flowers, fine dress, and all the trappings. Then her corpse was thrown in a rude wooden box, carried out of town on a donkey cart without a soul to accompany her, and dumped into an unmarked grave at Mt. Hope Cemetery on Market Street.
Fallen Angel, a Victorian Sainthood. Of all the painters, authors, and composers who celebrated the mythological deity of the Fallen Angel, the best remembered is Thomas Hardy, author of Tess of the d'Urbervilles: A Pure Woman Faithfully Presented. Stephen Crane (Maggie: A Girl of the Streets), Charles Dickens (e.g., Little Nell in The Old Curiosity Shop), Leon Tolstoy (Anna Karenina), and many other great (and lesser) authors practiced this trope. Maurice Ravel composed his haunting, atmospheric Pavane for a Dead Princess with such a theme in mind. In painting, one thinks of the Pre-Raphaelites with their hansome, almost masculinized, martyred women. Speculation on the origins and nature of this metaphor are beyond the scope of this website. In the nonfiction epilog to my noir period thriller (novel, fiction, dramatization) Lethal Journey, I devote a few pages to exploring the themes of Victorian morbidity and morbidness, especially in the dominant figure of Queen Victoria, as well as the social upheavals caused by the Industrial Revolution. In some ways, the Fallen Angel is a protest against the loss of traditional country hearth (sacred in yet more ancient times to Vesta) and its female priestesshood. Whatever we make of it, the facts are clear: for a time, the classic Fallen Angel had come to San Diego, and lay magnificently in death, to be admired by the high and the low of her age.
Crown Princess Victoria Ka'iulani, Highest Point in Heaven, Sacred Person (1875-1899). If ever a royal woman exemplified the divide between the West (White Man's Burden, White Supremacy, etc) and the East (Inscrutable Asians and other slurs), Ka'iulani must be that person. The Hawai'ian people for thousands of years had prospered under a relatively benign system of Royal Chiefs. It was a decentralized system found in many societies, including the ancient West. It is found in the Myceanaean society of Homer's retroverse Iliad, as well as in the Scottish highland society as envisioned by the Briton Shakespeare (MacBeth. Ironically, a Royal Chief named Kamehameha (c1758-1819) unified the Hawai'ian people after a bloody civil war. The Kingdom of Hawai'i that he created was a match in style and substance for those of Western powers, a painful growth for the native people, but a blessing in disguise as European empires completed gobbling up the world. Foreign Protestant and Roman Catholic forces (especially British, U.S., and French) intervened to force a balance of religious freedoms, but the signal turning point in world relations came in 1843. A rogue British admiral sailed into Honolulu harbor and demanded that Kamehameha III cede his realm to the British crown. Under protest (including some whites in Hawai'i) to the U.S., British, and French powers, the admiral's superior arrived on the next warship, restored the king to power, and this led to the Kingdom of Hawai'i being fully recognized by the world powers as a sovereign nation. Kamehameha's civil war had caused much pain, but had inadvertently modernized Hawai'i. This very monarchy was overthrown by U.S. corporate interests in 18943. By then, the world had moved on, and the leading powers largely seem to have accepted this new status quo. When Crown Princess Ka'iulani received word of her aunt's ouster, the fall of the monarchy, and the first steps in Hawai'i's takeover by the United States, she hurried home to be with her people. She traveled in the United States, giving talks, but Congress and the President would not hear her. She was caricatured as a savage, a heathen, a cannibal, a monkey, and so forth in the populist press. An exile in her former queendom, she died at her estate on Oahu in 1899, just 24 years old. She was known as the peacock princess because she loved these birds. When she died, the birds were so unceasing in their loud grief that their keepers finally had to shoot all of them. Crown Princess Victoria, a devout Christian of Scottish-Hawai'ian ancestry, remains a revered figure in Hawai'i. One of her close friends, during happier days, was the great Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson, author of Kidnapped! and other famous adventure stories.